FEATURE: Families resettled by Nam Tha 1 hydropower project need further aid

LUANG NAMTHA, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Hundreds of families in Bokeo and Luang Namtha provinces that were resettled due to the Nam Tha 1 hydro-power plant are worried about their future despite receiving ample assistance from authorities.

More than 1,700 families from 37 villages in Phaoudom district of Bokeo province and Nalae district of Luang Namtha province were affected by the project. They were moved to a resettlement site between October 2014 and April 2018.

At the project resettlement site, the affected families gained access to education, healthcare, electricity and piped water supply in their new homes. Each family was also given 1.5 hectares of agricultural land but the affected people now say they need more assistance for a sustainable livelihood.

The project supplied sufficient rice to the affected families in the first phase of the rehabilitation project. “The families were subsequently provided seeds for rice and other crops for planting and some livestock for breeding. How can they find more after it is finished?” Head of Nalae village in Nalae district, Mr Chanphone Bounpasert, told Vientiane Times when the local media recently visited the Nam Tha 1 hydropower plant.

The people require more assistance, including training in agricultural techniques because most of them only use traditional farming methods, and they also need rice seeds that provide higher yields and funding for livestock breeding and agricultural production, he said.

They are also worried about landslides in some areas and this problem has been highlighted to the construction company but the people have received no response until now, Mr Chanphone said. 

Some people in the resettlement site are also struggling with unclean water because the piped from the stream is muddy during the rainy season, he added.

He said there were many things that have not been completed in the resettlement site according to the agreement between the project and village authorities.   

Nalae village has a total of 250 people, with 51 families living in 42 houses. Resettlement at the village was completed in January 2018, Mr Chanphone said.

Almost all the activities have been completed at Pheng village in Phaoudom district and the people there have been trained in modern agricultural and animal husbandry techniques, especially mushroom growing and chicken breeding, head of the village, Mr Xiengpheng Chitdavong said.

Currently, many families have better living standards as Pheng is close to the main road and members of some families have easily found jobs or set up shops, he added. However, the people still need further support, especially for growing rice, job’s tears and sesame seeds, and funding for livestock breeding.   

Pheng village is one of ten affected villages in Phaoudom district of Bokeo province, which comprise more than 3,000 people of almost 600 houses.

Tha 1 Hydropower Project in Laos is a key cooperation project between Laos and China. China Southern Power Grid International has invested in the project under the overall framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The project was jointly built by China Southern Power Grid International and Électricité du Laos (EDL) in the form of a build-operate-transfer (BOT) venture.

Located on the Nam Tha River in Bokeo province in northern Laos, the project has an installed capacity of 168 MW and a total investment of US$447 million. It is a hydropower complex dominated by power generation, with other comprehensive benefits such as flood control and irrigation.   

The project will significantly improve local living conditions and generate 760 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, playing a critical and positive role in promoting rapid socio-economic development in northern Laos.

On August 28, 2006, China Southern Power Grid and the Ministry of Planning and Investment of Laos signed a MoU for the development of the project.

June 16, 2010, the two sides signed a project development agreement witnessed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit. The cornerstone of the project was laid on December 28, 2013 and on November 22, 2014, construction of the main part of the project officially commenced.

After the construction work began, the project company, through careful planning and refined management, optimised the engineering design and construction planning to overcome difficulties and challenges, and steadily promoted progress in the project. In November 2015, the river closure was achieved one year ahead of schedule.

In 2016, the project withstood the worst floods in almost three decades. The project has overcome various unfavourable factors, such as complex geological conditions of the material yard and difficulties in construction during the rainy season, and achieved major milestones on schedule, including workshop excavation, diversion tunnel excavation, dam filling and spillway excavation.

In November 2017, the first unit was successfully installed and on June 26, 2018, the sluice gate was closed for impoundment. In October 2018, the plant was put into operation for power generation.

The Lao government at all levels has attached great importance to the resettlement of people who were living in the power plant reservoir area.